Greenville, SC – After Marquette’s 73-66 loss to Georgia in its last game on December 2 in a game where foul trouble limited his playing time to 20 minutes, Marquette sophomore guard Markus Howard vowed to make adjustments to his playing style with the goal of fouling less because, as he put it, “my team needs me on the floor.”
Consider that box checked off. Howard erupted for a game-high and career-tying 34 points on Tuesday night in leading the Golden Eagles to a 91-81 victory over a talented Vermont squad from the American East Conference that played Purdue tough in the NCAA tournament last season, returned its top four scorers from that team and played Kentucky to a four-point loss in Rupp Arena on November 12. Howard did have to navigate around two first half fouls, but he finished with only those two fouls in playing 29 minutes against the Catamounts.
Howard went off for 21 second-half points as he helped turn back the many charges Vermont made on the Marquette lead. His 34-point game combined with the 62 points he scored in Marquette’s previous two games made him the first player in the 101-year history of the Marquette program to score 90 or more points in a consecutive three-game stretch. “Markus has had a great week, but not just because of his points per game,” said Marquette Coach Steve Wojciechowski. “It’s how he’s taking over the team. He’s making good decisions and he’s letting the offense come to him.”
Howard’s game starts behind the three-point line, and well behind it in fact as his range extends to the NBA three-point stripe. He shoots off the catch and dribble and incorporates an effective step back move off the bounce to create space from defenders. His release is high and quick with a high shot path to evade shot-blocking attempts from on-ball defenders. A native of Chandler, Arizona who came to Marquette from Finley Prep School in Las Vegas, Howard burst onto the collegiate scene last year with a .547 shooting percentage from three-point range, tops among all Division One players.
Recognizing a need to expand his game, Howard added a midrange floater to his arsenal this offseason that he’s using with great effect in early season games. Howard combats hard close outs with a quick penetrating step off the bounce that takes him into the paint where he launches his runner either straight on the basket or off glass from angles. And with shooting instincts for arching his runner just over the outstretched hands of would-be shot-blockers, he rarely gets his shot blocked.
Howard joins with senior Andrew Rowsey to form one of the most potent backcourt tandems in college basketball. Heading in the Vermont game, Rowsey and Howard were the top two scorers in the Big East with averages of 22.6 and 21.0 respectively. Rowsey drew the ire of Wojciechowski for recent practice performances and was relegated to playing off the bench against Georgia and again against Vermont. But whereas Rowsey struggled in a reserve role against the Bulldogs misfiring on 11 of 15 shots and turning over the ball six times, he rebounded with a strong floor game against Vermont. The Lexington, Virginia native put his scoring instincts on ice for much of the first half in handing out seven assists. He followed up with three second-half helpers to establish a new career high of ten assists.
“Our backcourt was outstanding in its decision making,” said Wojciechowski. “I thought Andrew set the tone for us from a passing standpoint. Once the ball starts moving, it becomes contagious. For him to have a game where he gets a double-double (Rowsey finished with 13 points) and has ten assists with one turnover, he’s capable of that. The game, at times, will call for him to do those things.”
When Marquette plays well, it’s no coincidence that sophomore forward Sam Hauser has usually turned in a strong game. That was the case against Vermont when Hauser scored 17 points, pulled down a team-high six rebounds and connected on three of five shots from distance. Entering the game shooting over 42 percent from behind the arc, Hauser is most effective shooting off the catch. He mostly pops out of screens and knows how to create passing angels for teammates when defenses break down and go into scramble mode. “With Markus, Andrew and Sam, we need these guys to be good,” said Wojciechowski. “Their hearts have to be in the right place I thought Andrew’s was tonight.”
Vermont came into the game as the heavy favorite to repeat as American East Conference champions. In guard Trae Bell-Haynes and forward Anthony Lamb, the Catamounts sport two players with double-digit scoring averages from last year and one–Lamb–who every preseason publication projected as the league’s most valuable player. But each player struggled to find rhythm and scored below their season averages.
At 6-6 and 230 pounds, Lamb presents numerous problems to most defenses. Connecting on 38 percent of his three-point shots, Lamb shoots the three-ball well enough to attract defensive attention on the perimeter. His one-three point make against Marquette halfway through the second half brought Vermont within three points of a tie. Teams that assign an athletic wing to guard Lamb then run the risk of the sophomore doing work in the paint where he uses his strong frame to establish position and score at the rim. Lamb put Hauser on his hip for a hoop-and-harm, three-point play with 8:38 left in the game to draw Vermont to 68-65, the closest Vermont would get the rest of the way.
But Lamb drew the attention of referees’ whistles and saw his playing time limited by foul trouble. He played 23 minutes, fewest of any Vermont starter, and finished with four fouls. “Lamb is a really good player,” said the Marquette coach. “I thought our big guys did a great job on him and when the guards switched off on him, they did a really good job on him.”
Lamb attracted the attention of enough Marquette defenders to open the floor for teammate Stef Smith, a freshman from Canada who entered the game shooting 31 percent from long distance. With the Marquette defense focusing on Lamb and Bell-Haynes, Smith found himself with open looks from behind the arc and took full advantage of them to make all six of his three-point attempts. His 20 points led the Catamounts in scoring. “Smith had a career night, but you have to bring help from somewhere” said Wojciechowski. “There wasn’t anything in his background to indicate he was a six-for-six shooter coming into the game. Hats off to the kid; he had a great game.”
Wojciechowski was happy to get a win heading into Marquette’s next game, a December 9th contest at rival Wisconsin. “I hope out fans understand how good a team Vermont is,” he said. “They not only have an excellent program, they have a winning culture. We beat a great program tonight.”
While Wojciechowski was talking about Vermont, he could very well have been talking about Wisconsin, a long-time, upper-echelon team in the Big Ten. “Wisconsin is a heck of a team and Greg (Gard) is a heck of a coach. (Wisconsin Center) Ethan Happ is an all-American who presents a lot of problems. If you’re starting a team with him, you’ve got a pretty darn good team.”
Vermont returns to play on December 9th when it travels to Boston to take on Northeastern.
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